Sky Sports: Talk Up The Premiership, Talk Down Serie A
It was a night which saw Fiorentina achieve an historic victory to send them to the last 16 of the Champions League for the first time in their history. In doing so, they condemned a Liverpool side they had soundly beaten in Florence to the ignomy of the Europa League.
Fiorentina are the first of the Italian sides to qualify, but they may well not be the last; despite a poor showing in Barcelona, Inter likely need only a 0-0 at home to Rubin Kazan to join them, whilst Juve and Milan could book their places with victories over French opposition this week. That would make it four teams out of four, something no other European league can realistically hope for going into the last round of games.
An objective observer might view this as a sign that Italian football is perhaps starting to regain a foothold near the top of the European summit that had slipped in recent seasons. An objective observer. Not a title you could give to any of Sky Sports' panel in the UK.
"You wouldn't fear any of the Italian sides in the last 16," exclaimed Andy Gray, going on to say that drawing an Italian team would be preferred by the likes of Arsenal, Man Utd or Chelsea. Really, Andy? Man Utd would prefer to play Milan or Inter rather than Olympiakos or Unirea? With the greatest of respect to those teams, are you sure? What about Fiorentina, who knocked out the mighty Liverpool? You tell us all the time how strong the Premiership is, how we must watch the titanic clashes between Man Utd and Liverpool - but the Merseysiders looked second best to Fiorentina when they met.
His colleague on the panel, Graeme Souness, was only too happy to join in the regular kicking they like to give Italian football. When Andy Gray was struggling to describe what he thought of Italian football ("not second rate, maybe, but..."), Souness stepped in with the brilliant observation that it was "dull". "That's a good word," said Andy. Yes, because even if it was true - which it is blatantly not to anyone who actually bothers to watch the league - clearly it is necessary to play exciting football to win....
Not wanting to be left out, David Platt - a man who has played in Italy - joined in. "It shows the poor state of Serie A." Inter, he contended, were walking away with Serie A and yet were poor in Europe - thus the whole league must be rubbish. It's such a simplistic argument that it almost merits no response, but allow me to try. Have you watched Inter in Europe for the past umpteen seasons, David? For whatever reason, they are always shockingly bad. That is a fault with the club, but it is not a reflection of the league - other teams who struggle in Serie A have performed well in Europe - such as Milan when they last won it only 3 years ago, or even this season.
As an observer sympathetic to Italian football, the relentless attacks on the Italian football get a bit wearisome. They are generally always the same ridiculous attacks that are based on nothing more than a stereotypical view of what Italian football was once like - catenaccio etc - and is so out of touch with reality it is embarrassing that professional pundits can spout the same nonsense every round of games. Never mind that Fiorentina have scored the most goals so far this season in the Champions League; never mind that Serie A is the only league that could have four teams in the last 16; never mind that a Milan team that had looked distinctly average in the league went to the Bernabeu and deservedly beat the Galacticos of Real Madrid in one of the games of the season so far. At a basic level, it seems the attitude is: "It's not on our channel, so let's talk it down".
Maybe we shouldn't expect any more. They have their own interests to promote after all. The danger is that people who watch it might actually be convinced by what these "experts" have to say. That they will listen to Andy Gray, a man who famously wrote off Milan before the second leg of their semi final against Man Utd three years ago, dissing Alberto Gilardino and Clarence Seedorf especially (Milan won 3-0, Seedorf and Gilardino grabbing two of the goals), and be convinced has some sort of superior knowledge that he should share with us. If that happens, then we are in real trouble...
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